Summer washout and internet sales boost N Brown

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The home shopping company N Brown enjoyed a significant boost in trading in the first half of the year, benefiting from the summer washout, which hit its high-street rivals, and soaring internet sales.

The Manchester-based company, which provides shopping by catalogue mail-out and online, yesterday announced a 17.5 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £34.4m in its half-year results.

Jonathan Pritchard, an analyst at Panmure Gordon, backed its earnings growth, niche position, and strong management, saying: "N Brown's interims are healthily above the consensus and the last six weeks have been stellar."

The retail sector was badly knocked in the unusually wet summer, with stores such as Next and Debenhams reporting weaker like-for-like sales as customers stayed away from the high street. One analyst added that sales look to have picked up in the past few weeks.

A spokesman for N Brown said that, with its broad catalogue, it could protect itself against the vagaries of the weather, which was harder to do in a high-street store.

Its core business is targeted at the 45-to-65 age group, which makes up two-thirds of its home shopping sales. Brands including JD Williams, Shoe Tailor and Fifty Plus all performed strongly. It added that its younger range, targeting customers between 30 and 45 with brands such as Simply Be, had grown 18 per cent to £78m.

The group has invested this year in boosting its catalogues business, expanding its existing range and mid-season mailings, and targeting the internet. Chief executive Alan White said: "There are huge opportunities to grow our internet sales as more and more customers shop online."

E-commerce sales were up 40.4 per cent to £73m in the first half. Paul Deacon, an analyst at Landesbanki, said the internet was fundamentally changing the economics of the business, driving up average order values and reducing costs.

The management said it expects to deliver a strong performance for the full year after positive early signs at the start of the second half. It hopes its business model is resilient against two possible issues: the Royal Mail disputes and general economic conditions hitting consumer spending patterns.

The group has been in the business of "distance shopping" for almost 150 years, tracing its origins to 1859, when James David Williams started three mobile shops. Its shares fell 0.5p to 300p.